Nothing gets me excited like a game between the 24th- and 26th-place teams in the NHL.
There has been, of course, much foofaraw and arglebargle across the nation over this game.
Dion Phaneuf! Keith Aulie! Darryl Sutter’s past mistakes revisited upon him ten-fold! Ron Wilson being remarkably smug about everything despite the fact that his team blows! Brian Burke giving gruff answers in which he says nothing!
Oh the excitement a game like this brings. There’s been a good amount of debate over whether Calgary fans should boo Dion Phaneuf and what all that would mean if they did. Validation that he wasn’t especially well-liked in town? A way for the fans to somehow hurt Darryl Sutter’s feelings (and wouldn’t a better way to do that be to boo every time Hagman and Stajan touch the puck)? And obviously, the correct answer is, "Who gives a rat’s ass?" If the fans boo, we all expected it and if they don’t then there’s no story. And frankly, the media’s gotta have stories.
You probably saw the media scrum around Dion at practice this morning: it was like the Beatles landing at Idlewild. All that was missing were the girls overcome with unbridled joy at seeing their beloved boy that they fainted (Eric Francis was a poor substitute, but he’s resting comfortably by all accounts).
But what no one, in all this, has talked about, is that this game is kind of important for both these teams. A win for Toronto ties them for ninth in their conference, which, given the way they slumped after that initial surge, is no small feat. It would be their third win in a row despite their complete and total lack of offense. Their 69 goals are third-worst in the league ahead of only the Islanders and Devils.
For Calgary, a win tonight would mean the team actually won two on the trot. This would be a big deal. Obviously not because it would vault them into the enviable position of 13th in the conference with everyone on the planet having games in hand, or because beating a team that is actually lower than them in the standings would be a novel new approach to winning at hockey games. But this would be important to Calgary because these guys really need a goddamn win. Like, any way they can get it. It surely wouldn’t matter to Brent Sutter if the Flames picked up two points in a 5-1 romp, a 46-round shootout win by the score of 14-13 or if a rampaging herd of hippopotami killed everyone on the Leafs bench.
Hell, he might’ve paid off the people at the Calgary Zoo already.